Expedition Fayetteville: Kayaking through the city

I love summer storms.

And not just because they’re great to sleep to. Or because it gives me an excuse to stay on the couch and watch bad movies all day. Granted, those are both great storm-related activities, but the real reason I love them is because they sometimes fill up local rivers and allow for that rare late season whitewater float.

So you can imagine how excited I was when on Saturday night a typhoon rolled through NWA.

I awoke Sunday morning to my phone ringing. At 8.30am. Ugh. But I was awake and there was no way I would be able to get back to sleep, so I got up, brewed some coffee and then sat down at the computer to check the weather and the local river levels. No good news on either front. But one of my good friends had bought himself a new kayak the week before and come hell or high-water (pun intended) he was determined to break it in.

We started to think. For years we’d been talking about exploring some local creeks when the water got high enough, but good sense had always gotten the best of us. Not today.

Ice storm debris.

Armed with a GPS device and the Google maps satellite function, we set about planning our trek. Originally we planned out putting into Clear Creek at the Hwy 112 bridge and setting off towards Farmington, but after an hour or so of scouting possible pull-out locations, we decided that it just wasn’t doable. (Somehow parking our recovery vehicle on Gun Club road seemed like a bad idea.)

Tracing the creek back river however, it was an entirely different story. Clear Creek connects with Mud Creek which conveniently runs alongside the Fayetteville bike trails. Sweet – we had a plan. Now for the hard part.

We dropped the recovery vehicle off at the 112 bridge and headed for the Mud Creek trailhead on Old Missouri. By the time we put our boats in under the Old Missouri bridge we were having second thoughts. Was this a good idea? Was it even legal? By that time we had too much invested – we were going regardless.

Immediately after setting off, we encountered our first obstacle – a natural gas pipeline crossing the creek with about 3 ft of clearance – not impossible, but not a breeze either. We managed to squeeze our way underneath and started paddling.

Much to our surprise, apart from the occasional bewildered looking cyclist, it was almost impossible to tell we were in the heart of the city. The creek was flowing and the tree canopy was beautiful. Ice storm damage however, was everywhere. Downed trees hindered or completely blocked our path at nearly every turn. And nearly every turn was blind. There was no doubt about it, what we were doing was exceedingly dangerous. But the three of us are fairly experienced kayakers and as I’ve already explained, we’d left our common sense at home.

A nice little drop on the creek.

We continued on down the creek, portaging where necessary and dodging anything that even remotely resembled a snake (copperheads were quite abundant), and we found that right here in Fayetteville, we’ve got some pretty decent rapids with 3, 4 even 5 foot drops, and great long whitewater runs. A few times we came across manmade obstacles, cables tied across the creek creating huge strainers, more pipelines with ever-decreasing clearance and litter galore. (Please folks, respect our beautiful city and find a trash can – or better yet – a recycling can.)

Eventually we connected with Clear Creek and parted ways with bike path (at the Gregg street Bridge.) We were on our own now. There would be no rescue available if anything went wrong – but we were determined. The creek here runs alongside the A&M railroad and was getting prettier with every turn, but we knew we’d crossed into Johnson and decided we’d better keep moving.

Cue Ball Street In Johnson. Not being familiar with Johnson roadways, this one hit us by surprise. We could hear a lot of water rushing from some distance away, but it wasn’t until we got close that we realized what was going on. Apparently Ball St utilizes a low water bridge.

A low water bridge that was completely underwater, and edged on one side with a railing that looked like it would decapitate you in a second if you couldn’t get out of the flow of rushing water.

Luckily we managed to pull to the side and portage around it. (Sorry there are no pics of this, but we didn’t think the Johnson Police department would react well if they happened upon us.)

Once past Johnson, we were in the clear. There was good open water and enough big rocks to keep things interesting. As we got closer to the 540 bridge, we were feeling pretty good about ourselves and our little adventure. And then we saw it, a little chute that in and of itself was worth the trip. Not 300 feet East of 540 and directly behind the new Townplace Suites, there was a drop of about six or seven vertical feet in the matter of a few yards. Awesome.

After we passed under 540 things got interesting. We were Kayaking through the middle of Clear Creek Golf Course (formerly Blessings) and we were positive that our little trek would be frowned upon if we were caught. Luckily we were only spotted by one group of golfers and they just laughed and waved. (It is important to note that this part of the creek was immaculate.)

Once we got through the golf course – the cart bridges were nice and high – our trip had come to and end. Exhausted and feeling a bit dirty (OK- exceedingly filthy), we carried our Kayaks up to the recovery vehicle and headed to a patio where we could find some cold adult beverages.

Overall, we deemed our trip a success apart from a few cuts and scrapes. I’d recommend it to anyone with intermediate to expert kayaking skills and a sense of adventure. The moral of the story is this: Fayetteville is a little bit more awesome then you previously thought.

Ryan Hughes, Fayetteville

If for some reason the above slideshow doesn’t load, visit the entire set on our Flickr page.

The above story and accompanying photos were contributed by Ryan Hughes. We think it goes without saying, but just in case you, for some reason, think this story is advocating the practice of urban kayaking in Fayetteville, here’s a disclaimer: It’s not. So don’t urban kayak. Because it’s dangerous.